Shūzō Kuki

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Shūzō Kuki
Kuki Shuzo.jpg
BornFebruary 15, 1888
DiedMay 6, 1941 (1941-05-07) (aged 53)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionJapanese philosophy
SchoolKyoto School
Main interests
Aesthetics, Culture, Contingency

Shūzō Kuki (九鬼 周造, Kuki Shūzō, February 15, 1888 – May 6, 1941) was a prominent Japanese academic, philosopher and university professor.

Early life[edit]

Kuki was the fourth child of Baron Kuki Ryūichi (九鬼 隆一) a high bureaucrat in the Meiji Ministry for Culture and Education (Monbushō). Since it appears that Kuki's mother, Hatsu, was already pregnant when she fell in love with Okakura Kakuzō (岡倉 覚三), otherwise known as Okakura Tenshin (岡倉 天心), a protégé of her husband's (a notable patron of the arts), the rumour that Okakura was Kuki's father would appear to be groundless. It is true, however, that Shūzō as a child, after his mother had separated and then divorced his father, thought of Okakura, who often visited, as his real father, and later certainly hailed him as his spiritual father. From Okakura, he gained much of his fascination for aesthetics and perhaps foreign languages, as indeed his fascination with the peculiar cultural codes of the pleasure quarters of Japan owes something to the fact that his mother had once been a geisha.

At age 23 in 1911 (Meiji 44), Kuki converted to Catholicism; and he was baptized in Tokyo as Franciscus Assisiensis Kuki Shūzō. The idealism and introspection implied by this decision were early evidence of issues which would have resonance in the characteristic mindset of the mature man.[1]

A graduate in philosophy of Tokyo Imperial University, Kuki spent eight years in Europe to polish his knowledge of languages and deepen his already significant studies of contemporary Western thought. At the University of Heidelberg, he studied under the neo-Kantian Heinrich Rickert, and he engaged Eugen Herrigel as a tutor.[2] At the University of Paris, he was impressed by the work of Henri Bergson, whom he came to know personally; and he engaged the young Jean-Paul Sartre as a French tutor.[3] It is little known outside Japan that Kuki influenced Jean-Paul Sartre to develop an interest in Heidegger's philosophy.[4]

At the University of Freiburg, Kuki studied phenomenology under Edmund Husserl; and he first met Martin Heidegger in Husserl's home. He moved to the University of Marburg for Heidegger's lectures on phenomenological interpretation of Kant, and for Heidegger's seminar "Schelling's Essay on the Essence of Human Freedom."[3] Fellow students during these years in Europe were Tetsurō Watsuji and Kiyoshi Miki.


Shortly after Kuki's return to Japan, he wrote and published his masterpiece, The Structure of "Iki" (1930). In this work he undertakes to make a phenomenological analysis of iki, a variety of chic culture current among the fashionable set in Edo in the Tokugawa period, and asserted that it constituted one of the essential values of Japanese culture.

Kuki took up a teaching post at Kyoto University, then a prominent center for conservative cultural values and thinking. His early lectures focused on Descartes and Bergson. In the context of a faculty with a primarily Germanic philiosophical background, his lectures offered a somewhat different perspective based on the work of French philosophers.

He became an Associate Professor in 1933 (Shōwa 8); and in that same year, he published the first book length study of Martin Heidegger to appear in Japanese.[5] In this context, it is noteworthy that the German philosopher explicitly referenced a conversation "between a Japanese and an inquirer" [6] in On the Way to Language (Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache).[7] Also, Heidegger expressed a desire to have written the preface to the German translation of The Structure of "Iki"[8]

At the University of Kyoto, Kuki was elevated to Professor of Philosophy in March 1934 (Shōwa 10).[5] The next year, he published The Problem of Contingency, also known as The Problem of the Accidental.[9] This work was developed from his personal experiences in Europe and the influences of Heidegger. As a single Japanese man within an encompassing "white" or non-Japanese society, he considered the extent to which he became a being who lacked necessity.[4] His Kyoto University lectures on Heidegger, Man and Existence, were published in 1939.[10]

From the mid-thirties, while Japan drifted towards totalitarianism and the war in China dragged on, Kuki seemed not to be much disturbed by the growth of fascism.[11]

In 1941, Kuki died prematurely from consequences following an attack of peritonitis.[12]

Major works[edit]

  • 1930 The Structure of "Iki" (「いき」の構造,, "Iki" no kōzō)
  • 1933 The Philosophy of Heidegger (「ハイデッガーの哲学,, Haideggā no tetsugaku)
  • 1935 The Problem of Contingency (偶然性の問題,, Gūzensei no mondai)
  • 1939 Man and Existence (人間と実存,, Ningen to jitsuzon)
  • 1941 An Essay on the Fine Arts (文芸論,, Bungeiron)


  1. ^ Nara, Hiroshi. (2004). The Structure of Detachment: the Aesthetic Vision of Kuki Shūzō with a translation of "Iki no kōzō," pp. 96-97.
  2. ^ Nara, p. 172.
  3. ^ a b Nara, p. 173.
  4. ^ a b Parkes, Graham. (1990). Heidegger and Asian Thought, p. 158.
  5. ^ a b Nara, p. 174.
  6. ^ Zwischen einem Japaner und einem Fragendenin
  7. ^ Marra, Michael F. (2002). Japanese hermeneutics, pp. 89-202., p. 202, at Google Books
  8. ^ Light, Stephen. (1987). Kuki Shūzō and Jean-Paul Sartre, p. 31.
  9. ^ Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Kuki Shūzō" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 571, p. 571, at Google Books.
  10. ^ Nara, p. 161.
  11. ^ Nara, p. 149.
  12. ^ Nara, p. 175.

References and further reading[edit]

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Botz-Bornstein, Thorsten. "Contingency and the Time of the Dream: Kuki Shuzo and French Prewar Philosophy" in Philosophy East and West 50:4 (2000).
  • ———. "Iki, Style, Trace: Shuzo Kuki and the Spirit of Hermeneutics" in Philosophy East and West 47: 4 (1997): 554–580.
  • Light, Stephen. Kuki Shūzō and Jean-Paul Sartre: Influence and Counter-Influence in the Early History of Existential Phenomenology. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987.
  • Marra, Michael F. Japanese hermeneutics: Current Debates on Aesthetics and Interpretation. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2002.
  • Mayeda, Graham. "Is there a Method to Chance? Contrasting Kuki Shūzō’s Phenomenological Methodology in the Problem of Contingency with that of His Contemporaries Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrich Rickert." In Frontiers of Japanese Philosophy II: Neglected Themes and Hidden Variations. Edited by Victor S. Hori and Melissa Anne-Marie Curley. Nagoya: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, 2008.
  • ———. Time, Space and Ethics in the Philosophy of Watsuji Tetsurō, Kuki Shūzō, and Martin Heidegger. New York: Routledge, 2006.
  • Nara, Hiroshi. The Structure of Detachment: the Aesthetic Vision of Kuki Shūzō with a Translation of "Iki no kōzō." Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.
  • Parkes, Graham. Heidegger and Asian Thought. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.
  • Pincus, Leslie. Authenticating Culture in Imperial Japan: Kuki Shūzō and the Rise of National Aesthetics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Saitō, Takako. ""The Human and the Absolute in the Writings of Kuki Shūzō" (Archive). In Volume 3 of Frontiers of Japanese Philosophy, 58–72. Edited by James W. Heisig and Mayuko Uehara (written as Uehara Mayuko). Nagoya: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, 2008.
  • ———."In Search of the Absolute : Kuki Shūzō and Shinran" (Archive). In Volume 7 of Frontiers of Japanese Philosophy, 232–246. Edited by James W. Heisig and Rein Raud. Nagoya: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, 2010.
  • Sakabe, Megumi. Washida Seiichi and Fujita Masakatsu, eds. Kuki Shūzō no sekai. Tokyo: Minerva Shobō, 2002.
  • St. Clair, Robert N. "The Phenomenology of Self Across Cultures." In Intercultural Communication Studies 13: 3 (2004): 8–26.
  • Takada, Yasunari. "Shuzo Kuki: or, A Sense of Being In-between" (Archive) In: Takada, Yasunari. Transcendental Descent: Essays in Literature and Philosophy (Collection UTCP-2). The University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy (UTCP). p. 281-295.
  • Yasuda, Takeshi and Michitarō Tada. "Iki" no kōzō’ o yomu. Tokyo: Asahi Sensho, 1979.

External links[edit]